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  • Jenna Beall

My Wondrous Writing Retreat

In November, Adam asked me what I'd like for my 31st birthday.


"I can't think of anything," I replied. It had obviously been a very challenging year, and I'd done quite a bit of stress online shopping.


I thought some more. "Well," I said. "I'm disappointed my writing retreat was cancelled. I wish there was a way to redo that."


Back in March, I had been all set to attend a writer's retreat at Wellspring House in Ashfield, Massachusetts. I was supposed to stay in the Emily Dickinson room and was giddy with the thought of an entire week spent writing. I had even treated myself to First Class airfare to get there. (Bought with Delta SkyMiles, but still! Fancy!)


So, do you know what Adam did? He booked me a week away at an Ann Arbor, Michigan Airbnb, cooked me a slew of suppers, and sent me away for a week of writing.


Swoon city, right? It was the most thoughtful, most amazing gift he could have given me.


The loft where I stayed was perched on a bluff that overlooked the Argo Cascades and had a view of the Ann Arbor city skyline. The space had this incredible sensation of being tucked away in nature while the bustling downtown was just off in the distance.

This was the view from my writing desk.

When I first entered the loft, I actually cried over how perfect it was. Every detail, from the antique sofa perfect for curling up with a book to the writing nook that was just off the bedroom, was special, inspiring...magical, even.

My view from the antique sofa where I read each evening.
The kitchen space really made me fall in love with concrete countertops.
The bathroom was decorated with this dreamy tile.

I read an entire book that first night while sipping on red wine. I admittedly didn't sleep well that initial evening, having watched HBO's I'll Be Gone in the Dark earlier this year and having listened to far too many true crime podcasts. Plus, I hadn't slept without Adam or the dogs since February! How bananas is that?


With the help of the Calm app (thanks Alan Sklar!), I eventually found sleep.


I quickly fell into a comfortable routine. Each morning, I started writing at seven. I had an alarm go off at noon, which was code for Change out of your pajamas! Eat lunch, go outside, and get some fresh air! I'd mosey down the trail that ran along the Argo Cascades before strolling into town.

The Argo Cascades

My very first afternoon in Ann Arbor, I stopped in front of the Literati Bookstore to admire their window display. A USPS truck pulled up. "Are they open today?" the driver called out.

To my knowledge, the shop was closed for in-store browsing, but how was I supposed to know if they were accepting deliveries today? I was just a tourist!


"I think they're totally closed?" I replied, since the lights appeared off.


"Did you say they're closed?" Another man asked, rounding the corner with a few friends. The trio looked at me expectantly.


How had I become the expert here?


"I have a delivery for them today," the USPS driver said.


"And we were really looking forward to checking this place out," the other dude said, both men acting like I had some sort of authority to open the bookstore's doors.


"I was just walking by. I've never even been inside the store before," I said, feeling wildly under-qualified for my role in this situation.


"Seriously?" The USPS driver was incredulous. "It's such a great bookstore. How have you never been in before?"


Since I didn't want to admit to being a tourist and unfamiliar with my territory (that fitful night of sleep was still fresh; what if these were nefarious characters I was dealing with?), I just shrugged and kept on my way.

The only story behind this lobster drinking red wine is that I thought it was hilarious,

Once I got home in the afternoons, I would take a cat nap and then write for a few more hours. After that, I'd arrange a small charcuterie board, pour myself a glass of wine, and open a fresh book. Since Adam had sent me off with a handful of dinners, I simply had to pop supper into the oven or reheat it on the stovetop each night.


I would try to watch something lighthearted before bed, like Derry Girls or Bridget Jones, and that helped me sleep more soundly.


By the end of the week, I'd explored the most charming spots in Ann Arbor, like West Side Book Shop, Zingerman's Deli, and the Kerrytown Market.

I'd read a handful of cheerful, holiday novels.


I'd completely disconnected from work and all the normal responsibilities of life.


Best of all, I'd finally gotten my wish of an entire week of quiet, uninterrupted writing time. I finished a manuscript I'd spent all year writing, rewriting, and rewriting. I'd finally figured out the story I wanted to tell, though let me tell you—it was a winding, confusing, frustrating path to get there.


But jeez louise, it was worth the effort.


I drove home from Ann Arbor feeling proud and refreshed. I came back feeling like a better version of myself.


As we prepare to ring in 2021, I think it's safe to say we all learned a lot about ourselves this year—some good, some bad. No one's perfect after all. (Unless your name is Ina Garten, and in that case, you are indeed perfect and should never change.)


I could give you a whole laundry list of weaknesses: I'm impatient. I online shop when I'm stressed. I eat too much sugar. I use those flossing sticks instead of good old-fashioned dental floss. I don't read enough literary fiction. And I almost always forget to take my reusable shopping bags to the grocery store.


But I also learned some pretty cool things about myself, too, including this: I enjoy my own company, and I have a passion I can get completely lost in, one that makes my heart swell with happiness and my brain go into a spirited overdrive.


Is there anything more extraordinary than that?

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